Boeing and 3D Printing in Manufacturing

The First 20,000

If you want a true testimony that 3D printing in manufacturing is here to stay, all you have to do is look at the growing importance of 3D printing at Boeing. In the early days of 3D printing, Boeing began using the technology for rapid prototyping and creating parts that would be difficult to produce with traditional manufacturing processes, especially parts that have intricate grooves or openings embedded in the interior.

By June of 2013, Boeing’s use of 3D printing had become so widespread that they had installed more than 20,000 printed parts in their aircraft. These 20,000 parts were all non-mechanical and were used in ten different commercial and military planes. The Dreamliner, one of Boeing’s prized luxury planes, included 30 different 3D printed parts.

The Next Steps – Jet Engines and Earth’s Orbit

In April of 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the first 3D printed part to actually be used in the jet engine itself. Designed by GE Aviation, the part houses an engine sensor. Boeing and GE will now be working together to retrofit engines for the 777 to include the 3D printed parts. While this is the first part to make its way into the engine, GE indicates that it will not be the last. In fact, GE has detailed a plan to use 3D printed fuel nozzles in the LEAP engine for the Boeing 737MAX and Airbus A320neo. There will also be 3D printed nozzles in the GE9X for the Boeing 777X, which will be the largest jet engine in history.

In October, Boeing released some more exciting news on the 3D printing front – Boeing’s engineers had created the world’s lightest metal. This impressive microlattice weighs 100 times less than styrofoam. Through a video that they produced about the material, which you can see below, Boeing indicates that it will use the material on non-mechanical parts in its airplanes, significantly reducing the total weight of the plane.

Boeing even has plans to send 3D printed parts into space. Engineers have developed a new 3D part that will hold thermal blankets into place on a satellite. This part will soon be installed and on its way into orbit.

Another huge benefit of 3d printing in manufacturing to any company, especially one as large as Boeing, is the fact that the parts can essentially be created on demand, significantly reducing the need for warehousing space. In fact, a recent patent filing, indicates that this is exactly the direction that Boeing is heading. In the filing, Boeing envisions a system that combines a parts library, database, and parts management system.

If you want to learn more about how you can incorporate the power of 3D printing into your organization, contact us at Spectra3D Technologies to schedule a consultation.